Look Both Ways! – How Learning About An Animal’s Behavior Can Help Them Cross Busy Roadways
By: Michelle Bernecker
Have you ever been driving on the highway when you think you see something out of the corner of your eye, and then suddenly there is a deer staring straight at you in the middle of the road? Well, every year in the United States, an estimated 400 million animals are killed in automobile collisions. Over 1 million each day ! This statistic is reflective of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Wildlife vehicular collisions are not only a threat to wildlife, but also humans. The most serious of these collisions involve large ungulates, hoofed mammals like deer, elk, and moose. Fortunately, conservationists studying road ecology have taken action and began to research migration habits of these animals to reduce the number of wildlife-involved accidents. These studies include capturing and marking of wildlife with GPS collars, recording migration patterns, and pinpointing the most prevalent road crossings of these animals.
In Idaho, along US Highway 20 and Idaho Highway 87 ‘169 recorded collisions resulting in the fatalities of moose, white tail deer, mule deer, and millions of dollars in collision damage to vehicles occurred in a 4 year span’. In efforts to decrease the amount of collisions, studies have begun along these highways to determine the routes of migratory elk and moose. Due to the ungulates migration patterns between their winter and spring ranges they are obligated to cross Highway 20, as no other route is available for them to take.
Between these two seasons, the highest number of elk and moose road crossings took place. By monitoring these patterns, six high traffic road crossing areas were pinpointed along the highway. Based on these observations, scientists brainstormed ways for a safe resolution of crossing the roadway. Simple solutions such as fencing and signs warning cars of wildlife crossing to more complex ideas such as overpasses and underpasses which give animals their own safe pathway either over or under the busy road have been taken into consideration.
Ideas like over and underpasses have proven to be an effective solution for elk crossings in Canada’s Banff National Park (pictured above). “Canada began installing 8-foot-high fences on both sides of the expanded highway. They then constructed 22 underpasses and two 164-foot-wide overpasses for wildlife. According to the park service, these changes resulted in a 96 percent decrease in mortality for the parks ungulates” . In the first year of implementing this idea the park saw as few as 2 reported crossings by only two different species on the overpass, but after an 8 year period, over 50,000 trouble free crossings have occurred! By studying the behavior of these animals it allows us to create solutions to everyday problems. Without the knowledge gained from studying this unique migratory pattern, there would be no way to determine how to implement an effective solution!
Although wildlife crossings are not yet widely utilized, they have proven to become a viable solution to a worldwide, and somewhat common, issue. Threats due to busy roadways, other than vehicular collision, can also interfere with foraging and mating behaviors, fragment habitats, and divide populations. As more information is obtained on these successful solutions projects like this can begin to take place!
Key Words: wildlife, behavior, ungulates, solutions, roadways, migration
 Culture Change- http://www.culturechange.org/issue8/roadkill.htm
 Project Successfully Maps Out Wildlife Pathways Across the “Longest Main Street in America”- Wildlife Conservation Society.
 National Geographic- http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/ 2004/05/0512_animaloverpasses_2.html
Interesting extras: 6 OF THE WORLD’S MOST INGENIOUS WILDLIFE OVERPASSES [PICS]- http://matadornetwork.com/change/6-of-the-worlds-most-ingenious-wildlife-overpasses-pics/